So you want to be a space tourist

Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos are both going into space this month. Here's what you need to know if you are contemplating your own suborbital journey, from a conversation with the man training Virgin Galactic's space tourists.

A space-flight trainee.

A NASTAR trainee completes his space training course.


Richard Branson will fly into space on Virgin Galactic's newly-approved rocket in nine days, beating Jeff Bezos, his brother and veteran aviator Wally Funk by about a week. Branson and Bezos have officially leveled up the bucket list for billionaire club activities. If you, too, are interested in commercial space tourism, you're not alone. In fact, if you're thinking about it only now, you're actually behind the times compared to many of the rich and famous.

In Southampton, Pennsylvania, hundreds of people — including all of Virgin Galactic's future amateur astronauts — have been training for commercial space flight at the only FAA-approved high-performance human centrifuge in the Western Hemisphere, and hundreds more are scheduled to take their turns in the coming months. The National Aerospace Training and Research Center houses that centrifuge, and it offers commercial space training programs to introduce potential space travelers to the gravitational forces they will experience on an actual flight. It also teaches them how to cope with that physical experience. Protocol sat down with NASTAR'S COO, Glenn King, to learn what it takes for the average person to prep for a trip to space.

Technically, there are no legal rules or regulations for commercial space flight. While NASA astronauts might train for two years or more for their missions, all that the FAA requires of commercial, non-governmental missions is that people are given some form of training, though that could be as little as a half-hour safety video, according to King. Instead, it lets the commercial companies set their own rules, which King said is the reason he expects that commercial space flight will become increasingly common in the next few years.

But while some establishments do their own training, most contract with NASTAR, which has been working with the people who will be flying with Virgin Galactic, Axiom (the company planning luxury satellite hotels), SpaceX and other companies' flights this year and years after. NASTAR just finished training SpaceX's "Inspiration4" crew, which — if it launches as planned in September — will travel on the first vehicle to orbit the Earth and visit the International Space Station with only commercial, amateur tourists on board.

"Our centrifuge spins around at varying [revolutions per minute] to replicate G-forces. We can program that machine to provide the exact same G-forces at the exact same requirements as the vehicles," King said.

The main difference between a space flight and an airplane ride is the "G-force," or the acceleration you feel on your body. Human bodies on Earth experience 1 G, which keeps our feet on the ground. The acceleration and angle required to break from Earth's orbit create G-forces that are many times the weight of our own bodies (3 Gs to 5 Gs, usually), an experience that can be both physically and psychologically alarming and even dangerous.

People can train for this experience by building up their body's tolerance in the centrifuge. NASTAR'S machine simulates different types of takeoffs based on the rocket in question; for people preparing for Virgin Galactic flights, for example, the centrifuge will simulate the feeling of a horizontal takeoff that slowly angles vertically (in comparison to rockets that shoot upward vertically from takeoff). The company also adds audio and visual cues that replicate what people will see and hear on their actual flight.

"The people going into space go through this training program to understand what they are going to go through. They need to understand this is not like a commercial airline flight, this is extremely different," King said. "If you've ever ridden a roller coaster at an amusement park, coming out of the bottom of the turns, just for a very short duration, you're experiencing G-forces."

Actual astronauts are often chosen in part for their extraordinary physical fitness and mental health; people with varying health levels, heart conditions or other illnesses or disabilities would usually be disqualified from consideration for space flight. In addition to its regular training, NASTAR has also developed certification programs with medical monitoring to train people with varying degrees of health problems, both to certify their safety and prepare them to manage their conditions while in space.

"I just trained people with prosthetic devices, diabetes, pacemakers — normally in the past these were all disqualifiers, but now with proper training, conditioning and monitoring, they can be safe," King said. "I have not yet run across a disqualifying factor. I just finished training a gentleman from Argentina who has had polio since he was a child."

King hopes that the medical monitoring tools will allow space companies to widen their customer base. He envisions a future where this kind of training is commonplace, and where people with the means can take suborbital flights to travel from the U.S. to Australia, or to satellite hotels in orbit like the one Axiom plans to develop. Hundreds of people — maybe even thousands in total — have already bought their tickets for when this future becomes a reality. The planned SpaceX Starship (the ship Elon Musk wants to use for Mars journeys, already under development and testing in Texas) will be so large that 100 people could easily fit inside it, according to King.

"As it becomes more commonplace and the price point gets lower and lower, more and more people will start taking these trips. People will be going from Point A to Point B on Earth in under an hour," King said.

A version of this story appeared in Friday morning's Source Code newsletter.


Why it’s time to ban algorithmic recommendations for children

How do we encourage the good that ML and AI can provide while restraining potential harms?

Algorithms often harm the very users they are supposed to serve.

Photo: Alfonso Di Vincenzo/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images

Tom Siegel is the CEO and co-founder of Trust Lab.

In the era of social media, AI algorithms have the power to decide everything from our playlists to the videos we watch, the news we consume and what special shopping deals we’re offered, and which are withheld. For all the good machine-learning technologies and algorithms do to improve and personalize the online experience for all of us, they also present one of the biggest threats for online safety, with real-world negative implications for the health and well-being of all internet users.

Keep Reading Show less
Tom Siegel
Tom Siegel is the CEO and Co-Founder of Trust Lab. Previously the VP of Trust & Safety at Google for 14 years, Tom built its global team through all stages of growth into an industry-leading user protection and abuse fighting organization with thousands of team members globally.

Sustainability. It can be a charged word in the context of blockchain and crypto – whether from outsiders with a limited view of the technology or from insiders using it for competitive advantage. But as a CEO in the industry, I don’t think either of those approaches helps us move forward. We should all be able to agree that using less energy to get a task done is a good thing and that there is room for improvement in the amount of energy that is consumed to power different blockchain technologies.

So, what if we put the enormous industry talent and minds that have created and developed blockchain to the task of building in a more energy-efficient manner? Can we not just solve the issues but also set the standard for other industries to develop technology in a future-proof way?

Keep Reading Show less
Denelle Dixon, CEO of SDF

Denelle Dixon is CEO and Executive Director of the Stellar Development Foundation, a non-profit using blockchain to unlock economic potential by making money more fluid, markets more open, and people more empowered. Previously, Dixon served as COO of Mozilla. Leading the business, revenue and policy teams, she fought for Net Neutrality and consumer privacy protections and was responsible for commercial partnerships. Denelle also served as general counsel and legal advisor in private equity and technology.


Google is wooing a coalition of civil rights allies. It’s working.

The tech giant is adept at winning friends even when it’s not trying to immediately influence people.

A map display of Washington lines the floor next to the elevators at the Google office in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As Google has faced intensifying pressure from policymakers in recent years, it’s founded trade associations, hired a roster of former top government officials and sometimes spent more than $20 million annually on federal lobbying.

But the company has also become famous in Washington for nurturing less clearly mercenary ties. It has long funded the work of laissez-faire economists who now defend it against antitrust charges, for instance. It’s making inroads with traditional business associations that once pummeled it on policy, and also supports think tanks and advocacy groups.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.


Everything you need to know about tech layoffs and hiring slowdowns

Will tech companies and startups continue to have layoffs?

It’s not just early-stage startups that are feeling the burn.

Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

What goes up must come down.

High-flying startups with record valuations, huge hiring goals and ambitious expansion plans are now announcing hiring slowdowns, freezes and in some cases widespread layoffs. It’s the dot-com bust all over again — this time, without the cute sock puppet and in the midst of a global pandemic we just can’t seem to shake.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.


Sink into ‘Love, Death & Robots’ and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Our favorite picks for your weekend pleasure.

Image: A24; 11 bit studios; Getty Images

We could all use a bit of a break. This weekend we’re diving into Netflix’s beautifully animated sci-fi “Love, Death & Robots,” losing ourselves in surreal “Men” and loving Zelda-like Moonlighter.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at

Latest Stories